FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

HEATING & AIR new install
Q

When is it time to replace my old HVAC system?

A

A good indicator it may be time for a replacement is when you notice that the system isn’t heating or cooling your home like it used it. For example, it takes a very long time for your home to cool down or heat up or it just doesn’t cool or heat at all. Another indicator it may be time for a replacement is a spike in energy costs when you are running the system. New equipment is much more efficient and will run for less time during the day resulting in savings on your energy bill.

Q

How do I know what HVAC system is right for me?

A

Each type of system is recommended based on what is appropriate for your home and needs. The best way to find out what type of system is best for your home is to have our estimator come out and do an evaluation and make recommendations based on your home layout and your comfort concerns.

Q

What is the difference between 80% AFUE and 90% AFUE?

A

The AFUE rating on a furnace relates to how efficient that furnace is. In other words, and 80% AUFE furnace converts 80% of its fuel into energy and a 90% AFUE furnace converts 90% of its fuel into energy. The higher efficiency furnaces will cost more to purchase but if you live in an area with colder or longer winter months then a 90% AFUE furnace can help to offset your heating costs.

Q

What is a Ductless Mini Split?

A

Ductless Mini Splits are similar to a central HVAC system as is has an outdoor compressor and condenser and an indoor air handling unit. Ductless Mini Splits are a great option for commercial buildings with multiple offices that want individual control of temperate, multi-family house retrofits where access to ductwork isn’t available, and add-ons to existing houses with systems that can not support the additional square footage. Mini Splits are also used in residential applications where the home owners want temperature control over individual spaces in the home. This can help lower energy costs as you are only heating or cooling the space that is occupied.

HEATING & AIR repair and service
Q

How do I know what size system do I need?

A

If you are replacing an existing system in your home, most likely you should install the same size as what you currently have.  Despite all the calculations and programs we have at our disposal, we find the most accurate way to determine if this is the best course is your input.  Heating is rarely a problem in our area, so we would ask you, when it was over 100 outside, how did your system perform.  If it was good, then there is no need to change anything.  Only if you have problems keeping your home comfortable on hot days should you consider upsizing.  You should also consider looking at other ways to reduce your heat load as well such as adding some insulation to the attic or making sure your ducts are adequately insulated and sealed so they are not losing a great deal of cooling while the air is traveling thru your 160 degree attic.  

Upsizing involves much more than just buying a larger system.  The infrastructure MUST be able to support the increase in capacity or not only will you not get maximum performance and efficiency, it can lead to serious problem, drastically shorter lifespan and increased parts failures.  The Freon lines must be the correct size for the larger air conditioner.  The electrical wiring must be sized properly for a higher electrical load, and the duct system must be sized large enough to allow for higher air flow.   It is also possibly that you may benefit from a smaller size as well.

If you are installing a system in a new home or a home that has not had central heating and air before, the sizing should be based on a review of the structure taking into account how it is built, and then calculating the size based on the tools we have available.  Sizing off of square footage alone is risky.  You can have two structures next door to each other of identical square footage.  If one had lots of older windows and many are facing south with no shade, and has less insulation in the walls and attic, and the other has less windows that are newer and more efficient, more insulation in the walls and attic, these two buildings would need drastically different size systems to heat and cool them properly.

Talking with a knowledgeable contractor about your home is the best way to determine what is the best size for you.

Q

What is the best brand of heating and air conditioning equipment?

A

Our answer to this question is probably unlike the answers you will get from most companies.  And that is that there really is no “best” brand.  The founder and most of the employees here have worked for decades in this business and have serviced, sold, and installed every brand and type of equipment made.  The founder alone has 30 years’ experience with all brands.  

Many people do not realize there are only a few manufactures making many brands of equipment.  Multiple brands of equipment literally come off the same assembly lines, just with a different paint job and label.  Others may be made in different locations, but are made of the identical parts and components, again with just a different paint color and label.  And even different manufacturers get the major components such as electric motors, compressors, gas valves, etc from the same couple of sources.  Our answer to this question is the best brand of heating and air conditioning equipment is the company that installs it, and getting the best bang for your buck.  

This is not to say that every manufacturer hasn’t put out a real stinker at some point, they all have.  We have had to deal with specific models that had problems.  A good example is a new modulating ultra-high efficiency furnace that came out about 2006.  This particular model ended up experiencing a lot of issues with a certain part failing a lot.  We stopped selling this model until the bugs were worked out and it is now as reliable as anything on the market.  We stood behind our warranty for those who unfortunately had to call for service and took care of our customers.  We constantly monitor the market for signs of a certain unit that is experiencing higher than normal service rate.

Installation is critical as well. If your duct system is not big enough to allow the right amount of airflow, or your refrigerant lines are not sized right, or any number of factors are not correct, the life of your system or frequency of breakdowns can be impacted. Most people that experience service issues with their system think they bought a bad product when in fact it was the infrastructure connected to it.  And just because your last unit ran 20 years with no problem doesn’t mean you may not have any external issues.  Old equipment is like old cars.  Very simple under the hood.  And just like with cars, new equipment is full of complex components, electronics, sensors and safety’s.  New equipment is affected more by incorrect infrastructure much more than an old unit that just kept on running no matter how restrictive the duct system was or if the flow of refrigerant was not quite right.  Don’t be sold by glitzy marketing or pushy sales people trying to convince you that whatever it is that they sell is the best there is and everything else is junk.  Get it installed right by a great company and likely whatever brand you purchased will be the best brand!

Q

Do tune ups really give me any benefit?

A

YES!  A tune up is maintenance on your machine.  It is primarily like a physical you get at your doctor.  Checking all the vital signs looking for indicators of possible problems and addressing them before they become more serious.  We experience many calls for service that turn out to be a wire or connector that came loose, carbon build up on an electrical contractor, or a sensor that simply became dirty.  I recommend not putting a lot of stock in claims that a tune up will cut your electric bill. Regular maintenance is intended to KEEP your equipment in good shape.

If your system is in good shape, a tune up will not reduce the amount of energy it uses.  If a dirty blower or coil is found and then cleaned, that will result is reduced power consumption and better performance, but the primary reason and benefit for having regular maintenance is keeping your equipment performing at its best, and heading off breakdowns over minor issues or at the most inopportune times.  You should also know that while rare, it is possible every component of your equipment checks out great and a short time later a part or motor fails. It can and it does happen.  If this occurs, we do offer our no breakdown guarantee.  If you need a repair in the same season after we do a maintenance, we will refund the cost of that maintenance in full, no questions asked.

Q

Should I have my Freon “topped” off?

A

NO!  A refrigerant system is a sealed, closed loop system.  Unless it develops a leak, it should never need Freon added.  Beware of companies that tell you that you need to do this.  If you are actually low on refrigerant, then your system has developed a leak somewhere.  Refrigerant leaks can range from simple to find and repair to very difficult to find and expensive to repair.  While most all companies will recharge a low system, it is technically against the law for an EPA certified technician to add refrigerant to a system knowing that it will leak out.

Q

How often should I change my air filter?

A

There is no certain frequency to answer this question.  It is based on your filter type and your home environment.  Typical is about once a month.  You should check it at least that often.  If you find that it is not very dirty, it may need to be changed less frequently.  There are some types of filters that only need changed twice a year.  

The most important thing is to check them regularly.  As a filter becomes dirty, the filter starts to clog up reducing the amount of air getting thru.  While you may not even notice any difference in your home, as the airflow decreases, your furnace can run hotter, the blower motor will start working a little harder, and Freon will absorb less heat from the air reducing cooling and also making your compressor work harder.  This leads to reduced life of the system.  Eventually a filter can become clogged enough that your system will actually stop working.  This is a more common cause for service calls than you might imagine.

Solar Electric & Hot Water
Q

Is solar hot water as beneficial as solar electric.

A

I am a big fan of all things solar, including solar hot water.  However, solar hot water only makes hot water, of course.  So if you don’t use a lot of hot water, it may not be cost effective.  The cost of solar hot water has basically remained the same as the cost of solar electric has continued to go down.

As with everything else, your personal situation and lifestyle will be a big part of the equation.  Use a lot of hot water?  Have a propane water heater? Current water heater need to be replaced? Want to reduce carbon fuel combustion?  If you said yes to any or especially more than one of those questions, it might be worth a look.  

To share a more personal experience.  My own home is in a heavily wooded valley, and only has direct sunlight for about 60% of the day in the summer and even less in the winter.  I did not put solar electric on my home until just a few years ago when the cost got low enough that it was worth doing.  However, I put solar hot water on my home well over a decade ago, getting rid of my propane water heater.  This eliminated 2 fill ups of my propane tank each year, about 300 gallons of propane.  I had two teenage daughters at home, used a lot of hot water and had an expensive source of fuel, so it made a lot of sense for me.  I can only imagine the amount of carbon that I did not produce by not burning over 3000 gallons of propane to date and counting.

Q

Should I convert my appliances to electric when I get solar?

A

Another MAYBE answer.  Here again is where a good evaluation comes into play.  It mostly depend on how much solar you are able to produce and what are you paying for electricity as well as the alternative power source.  It also depends on your environmental concerns.

If you only have enough roof space or budget to offset your current electrical use, you will just be adding to your use and buying more electricity.  If you are offsetting natural gas use for your heat, cooking, drying, etc, you are offsetting a fairly inexpensive source of fuel.  Paying more money to install a larger solar system, combined with the cost of new appliances/HVAC, just to offset your natural gas bill is likely not going to save you any money.  If you are on propane, the savings would be greater.  

There is a push towards electrification by the state and utilities to reduce the combustion of fossil fuels.  If environmental concerns are important to you, one benefit would be greatly reducing fossil fuel combustion by converting to electric and powering them with additional solar production.


Q

Are batteries worth the cost?

A

The short answer to this question is MAYBE.  Not even a year ago the answer would have almost always been NO.  Batteries were not installed as an “investment” that would pay for itself, but rather a convenience or even necessity to provide power in a grid outage.  

However, there has been a huge shift towards power storage, and not really for the purpose of backup power, but rather peak shaving.  Many new battery systems are designed to store power during the day instead of selling it back at a low rate, and then discharge the battery during peak time instead of importing power at a high rate.  Utilities have incentives to help offset the cost of these batteries as the benefit the utility and the power grid.  They also qualify for the solar tax credit.

Just as solar has appeared on roof after roof for many years and has become a massive power generation source for the grid, the installation of batteries will eventually accumulate into a massive power storage system to help offset the challenge of huge amounts of solar power being produced when it is not all needed and the huge demand during peak time as solar production starts to taper off.

If your utility has an incentive, coupled with the solar tax credit and more reduction in your utility costs by peak shaving, batteries have become more cost effective.  Some systems are almost entirely made for peak shaving and will power an outlet or two for a couple hours, and others will peak shave as well as power most of your home for long periods of time.  The right battery system can function for peak shaving as well as backup power.  Batteries will allow you to continue producing and using solar power as well.

As with anything solar, a good evaluation is needed to determine the cost effectiveness.

Q

Does solar work when the power is out?

A

The short answer is NO.  The overwhelming majority of solar systems are grid tied with no battery backup.  If the grid goes out, they will automatically shut down and disconnect from the grid.  Your system will be off until the grid power is restored.  Even if you have a backup generator, a properly installed system will be wired so that the solar and the generator NEVER meet each other.  Huge problems can occur if they do, so even if you restore “grid power” with your generator, you cannot produce or utilize solar power. 

The only way to utilize solar power in a grid outage is to have battery backup.  A battery backup system is managed by an inverter/controller that will manage the power produce by solar, keep your home powered, and charge or discharge the battery’s depending on the need.   Battery backup systems can often power a home indefinitely if the outage occurs at a time of the year that there is sunshine every day.   

The ultimate in being power independent is a battery system coupled with a backup generator.  The nice thing about this type of system is that the generator basically becomes a battery charger and does not have to be ran all day to power your home.  You can even have power all night without the generator needing to run.  This vastly increases the number of days you could power your home if you are dependent on a propane tanks to run your generator.

Q

Is there an advantage to leasing vs buying?

A

First of all, disclosure.  We do not offer leasing.  Our experience is based having reviewed the contracts for leasing for several companies, and feedback from homeowners, real estate agents, and lots and lots of comments on social media posts such as nextdoor and facebook any time the subject comes up.  

Of course, when you buy, you own it and all of the power it produces.  The idea is to get all the money you spent on it back as fast as possible, and once you have all your out of pocket back, it then becomes a revenue stream for ever more after that.

With leasing, you are basically allowing another company to put a power plant on your roof and sell you the power.  It is NOT your solar system, you don’t get a “free solar system”, they get free real estate to generate power, which they then sell to you.  The concept is that they will sell you the power their solar system makes at a lower rate than your utility company.  You have to enter a pretty iron clad contract with them that give them rights to your rooftop for a very long time.  

You will find a great deal of negative comments and reviews on leasing if you search.  There are some people who say they were happy with it, but for every one of those, you will likely find 4 people who had a negative experience.  You will see concerns shared about the fine print, the actual savings vs promised, additional fees and charges down the road, increases in power rates, and if the home was ever sold or became a rental.  If you sell your home, the new buyer almost always has to agree to assume the lease.  If you decide to or need to rent your home, you will have to get your tenant to agree to pay the lease or you will be paying for a lot of their power.  You will find story after story about people who tried to sell their home and having this leased system on their roof was a huge burden or an outright roadblock in the sale of their home.  

If you are considering leasing, the best advice is to read and understand every word on the contract and search for reviews on leasing and specifically the company proposing the lease.

Q

How long does it take for solar to pay for itself?

A

The answer to this question is dependent on many things.  Of course the first consideration is the cost of the system.  Once that has been determined, if you are financing, the cost to finance has to be added in as well.  

Then it has to be determined how much power the system is expected to produce over time.  The estimated production is then turned into a dollar amount by determining how much you would have otherwise paid the utility for this power.

For example, (these are round numbers for ease of math) if a solar system cost $10,000, and was going to produce  10,000 killowatt hours of power per year, and the utility would have charged $2000 per year for that power, the system would pay you back $2000 per year and you would have your $10,000 back in 5 years and a positive income of $2000 per year after that.

Many companies will inflate this payback by adding in increases in utility rates.  I have seen some that use extreme increases in power rates to make their payback look better.  There will undoubtedly be electric rate increases over the years, but the exact amount and frequency is unknown, and caution should be used when comparing quotes that used high percentages for future rate increases.  

You should also be aware that the trend for utilities increasing revenue has gone towards fees and charges that apply regardless of the amount of power that is consumed.  These cannot be offset by more solar production.

Any production estimate can be verified by going to http://www.csi-epbb.com/default.aspx

You can enter in the solar module and inverter information right off of any estimate you receive and this calculator will give you a production estimate. 

This is the calculator that was used by the utilities when there were utility rebates for solar and it is a very conservative calculator.  Our systems tend to consistently outperform the estimates from this program.  But that is a much better outcome than buying a system only to find it did not quite produce what you were promised.

Maintenance Plan
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Whole house generators
Q

Can a generator work with solar at the same time?

A

Generators and solar systems can not be on at the same time unless you have a battery backup and an inverter that will manage everything.  If a generator is installed in a way that the solar system sees the power and thinks the grid is back on, it will start producing power as well.  There is nothing to sync the power “waves” or any way to manage any excess power coming from the solar system.  Severe damage can occur.

If you have either solar or a generator and are going to add the other, you will want to be sure that you use a fully qualified installer that knows how to wire everything correctly.  If you are getting both at the same time, be sure to ask how it will be wired and if the two will ever “meet” each other.  Unfortunately, there are some contractors who know just enough “to be dangerous”.

If you add battery storage into the mix, the inverter/controller will manage all of this for you and allow you to use solar power during a power outage.  

Q

What type of fuel is best?

A

Probably the best fuel type of generator is natural gas if you have it at your home.   You don’t need to worry about storing it, it is relatively inexpensive, and you have an unlimited amount of use.  That is, of course, if you do not experience a natural disaster that interrupts the gas distribution network.

Propane is probably the second best option as you can easily and safely store hundreds of gallons and it does not go bad like gasoline or diesel.  With gasoline and diesel, you are limited to how many fuel cans you have and can store.  And it can go bad after a certain amount of time and needs to be rotated (use what’s in storage and refill with fresh).  In the event of widespread power outages, downed trees, flooded or inaccessible roads, and especially emergency demand, you may not be able to get gas or diesel fuel.  

Finally, with gas and diesel, you have to keep refilling the fuel tanks

Q

Can I run computers and sensitive electronic safely on a generator?

A

That depends on the generator.  Automatic standby generators like Generac and other brands put out a clean sine wave, or clean power.  On the other end of that are your inexpensive portable generators, and they do not put out power that is quite as clean.  You should always protect electronic by using surge protectors.  If your generator does not put out clean power, you may notice lights flicker, especially LED’s, or your refrigerator or freezer may sound funny if the compressor is not getting the correct voltage.  


Q

What’s the difference between a manual and automatic generator switch?

A

With a manual generator switch, you need to start your generator and manually flip a switch that will disconnect you from the grid and connect you to the generator so that it can power your home.  An automatic switch detects the loss of power and automatically starts the generator and switches from the grid to generator power.  It will also turn your generator off and switch back to the grid when is senses that power is restored.

If you are not home, especially if you are gone somewhere for more than a day, the automatic generator will keep your cold and frozen food storage working automatically.  With a manual switch, if you are away from home, critical appliance such as your refrigerator, freezer, well pump, and heat will not be working and can lead to loss of cold and frozen food, animals and plants not getting water, and frozen pipes in your home in cold weather.

Q

What size generator do I need?

A

Generator sizing is dependent upon a number of things, most importantly, personal preference.  When the power goes out, do you want it to be survivable, tolerable, or comfortable.  You can power just the most basic necessities or the entire home.

When considering the size, the type and amount of available fuel must be considered.  If you are on natural gas and install a natural gas generator, you have basically an unlimited supply of energy to power your generator, so other than the cost, fuel use is less of a consideration.  If you experience a natural disaster that interrupts the natural gas supply, it won’t make any difference what size generator you have, they will not run.

If you are on propane, or have a gasoline or diesel generator, you are limited to the fuel you have on hand when the power goes out.  

Replenishing these fuels in bad storm, widespread power outages or natural disasters can be challenging and sometimes impossible.  Therefore it is much more important to consider the rate of fuel consumption when deciding on a size.  

A review of your home and desires can help determine the right size generator for you.

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